Older Spouses’ Cortisol Responses to Marital Conflict: Associations With Demand/Withdraw Communication Patterns

We examined 31 older couples’ wife demand/husband withdraw communication patterns and cortisol responses to marital conflict. Regression analyses indicated that wife demand/husband withdraw sequences during conflict related to cortisol responses only for wives. Based on a mixed model that accounted for the interdependence of spouses’ perceptions of communication patterns and outcomes, older spouses who reported greater wife demand/husband withdraw patterns in their marriage had greater cortisol responses during a conflict discussion; actual demand-withdraw did not relate to cortisol responses in this model. Findings suggest that perceived communication patterns contribute to neuroendocrine responses to marital conflict, and implications for marriage and health research with older couples are discussed.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

REFERENCES

  1. Bakeman, R. (1983). Computing lag sequential statistics: The ELAG program. Behav. Res. Methods Instrum 15(5): 530–535.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Baucom, D. H., Sayers, S. L., and Duhe, A. (1989). Attributional style and attributional patterns among married couples. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 56(4): 596–607.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Cacioppo, J. T., Berntson, G. G., Malarkey, W. B., Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., Sheridan, J. F., Poehlmann, K. M., et al. (1998). Autonomic, neuroendocrine, and immune responses to psychological stress: the reactivity hypothesis. Ann. NY Acad. Sci. 840: 664–673.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Campbell, L., and Kashy, D. A. (2002). Estimating actor, partner, and interaction effects for dyadic data using PROC MIXED and HLM: A user-friendly guide. Pers. Relationships 9(3): 327–342.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Carstensen, L. L., Gottman, J. M., and Levenson, R. W. (1995). Emotional behavior in long-term marriage. Psychol. Aging 10(1): 140–149.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Caughlin, J. P., and Huston, T. L. (2002). A contextual analysis of the association between demand/withdraw and marital satisfaction. Pers. Relationships 9(1): 95–119.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Caughlin, J. P., and Vangelisti, A. L. (1999). Desire for change in one's partner as a predictor of the demand/withdraw pattern of marital communication. Commun Monogr. 66(1): 66–89.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Christensen, A. (1987). Detection of conflict patterns in couples. In Hahlweg, K., and Goldstein, M. (Eds.), Understanding major mental disorder, Family Process, New York, pp. 250–265.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Christensen, A., and Heavey, C. L. (1990). Gender and social structure in the demand/withdraw pattern of marital conflict. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 59(1): 73–81.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Coyne, J. C., Rohrbaugh, M. J., Shoham, V., Sonnega, J. S., NIcklas, J. M., and Cranford, J. A. (2001). Prognostic importance of marital quality for survival of congestive heart failure. Am. J. Cardiol. 88: 526–529.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Cronbach, L. J. (1951). Coefficient alpha and the internal structure of tests. Psychometrika 16: 297–334.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Denton, W. H., Burleson, B. R., Hobbs, B. V., Von Stein, M., and Rodriguez, C. P. (2001). Cardiovascular reactivity and initiate/avoid patterns of marital communication: A test of Gottman's psychophysiologic model of marital interaction. J. Behav. Med. 24(5): 401–421.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Ewart, C. K., Taylor, C. B., Kraemer, H. C., and Agras, W. S. (1991). High blood pressure and marital discord: Not being nasty matters more than being nice. Health Psychol. 10(3): 155–163.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Fincham, F. D., Garnier, P. C., Gano-Phillips, S., and Osborne, L. N. (1995). Preinteraction expectations, marital satisfaction, and accessibility: A new look at sentiment override. J. Fam. Psychol. 9(1): 3–14.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Floyd, F. J. (1988). Couples’ cognitive/affective reactions to communication behaviors. J. Marriage Fam. 50(2), 523–532.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Floyd, F. J., O’Farrell, T. J., and Goldberg, M. (1987). Comparison of marital observational measures: The Marital Interaction Coding System and the Communication Skills Test. J. Consult. Clin. Psychol. 55(3): 2200.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Gallo, L. C., Troxel, W. M., Matthews, K. A., and Kuller, L. H. (2003). Marital status and quality in middle-aged women: Associations with levels and trajectories of cardiovascular risk factors. Health Psychol. 22(5): 453–463.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Gottman, J. M., and Levenson, R. W. (1988). The social psychophysiology of marriage. In Noller, P., and Fitzpatrick, M. A. (Eds.), Perspectives on marital interaction. Monographs in social psychology of language, No. 1., Multilingual Matters, Ltd, Clevedon, England, pp. 182–200.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Gove, W. R., Hughes, M., and Style, C. B. (1983). Does marriage have positive effects on the psychological well-being of the individual? J. Health Soc. Behav. 24(2): 122–131.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Hawkins, M. W., Carrere, S., and Gottman, J. M. (2002). Marital sentiment override: Does it influence couples’ perceptions? J. Marriage Fam. 64(1): 193–201.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Heavey, C. L., Christensen, A., and Malamuth, N. M. (1995). The longitudinal impact of demand and withdrawal during marital conflict. J. Consult. Clin. Psychol. 63(5), 797–801.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Heavey, C. L., Layne, C., and Christensen, A. (1993). Gender and conflict structure in marital interaction: A replication and extension. J. Consult. Clin. Psychol. 61(1): 16–27.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Heffner, K. L., Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., Loving, T. J., Glaser, R., and Malarkey, W. B. (2004). Spousal support satisfaction as a modifier of physiological responses to marital conflict in younger and older couples. J. Behav. Med. 27(3): 233–254.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Heyman, R. E. (2001). Observation of couple conflicts: Clinical assessment applications, stubborn truths, and shaky foundations. Psychol. Assess. 13(1): 5–35.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Heyman, R. E., Weiss, R. L., and Eddy, J. M. (1995). Marital Interaction Coding System: Revision and empirical evaluation. Behav. Res. Ther. 33(6): 737–746.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Jacob, T., and Krahn, G. (1987). The classification of behavioral observation codes in studies of family interaction. J. Marriage Fam. 49(3): 677–687.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Jacobson, N. S., Follette, W. C., and Pagel, M. (1986). Predicting who will benefit from behavioral marital therapy. J. Consult. Clin. Psychol. 54(4): 518–522.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Jacobson, N. S., Gottman, J. M., Waltz, J., Rushe, R., and Babcock, J. M. (1994). Affect, verbal content, and psychophysiology in the arguments of couples with a violent husband. J. Consult. Clin. Psychol. 62(5): 982–988.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., Bane, C., Glaser, R., and Malarkey, W. B. (2003). Love, marriage, and divorce: Newlyweds’ stress hormones foreshadow relationship changes. J. Consult. Clin. Psychol. 71(1): 176–188.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., Glaser, R., Cacioppo, J. T., MacCallum, R. C., et al. (1997). Marital conflict in older adults: Endocrinological and immunological correlates. Psychosom. Med. 59(4): 339–349.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  31. Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., Malarkey, W. B., Chee, M., Newton, T., Cacioppo, J. T., Mao, H.-Y., et al. (1993). Negative behavior during marital conflict is associated with immunological down-regulation. Psychosom. Med. 55(5): 395–409.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  32. Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., and Newton, T. L. (2001). Marriage and health: His and hers. Psychol. Bull. 127(4): 472–503.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., Newton, T., Cacioppo, J. T., MacCallum, R. C., Glaser, R., and Malarkey, W. B. (1996). Marital conflict and endocrine function: Are men really more physiologically affected than women? J. Consult. Clin. Psychol. 64(2): 324–332.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Krokoff, L. J. (1989). Predictive validation of a telephone version of the Locke-Wallace Marital Adjustment Test. J. Marriage Fam. 51(3): 767–775.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Levenson, R. W., Carstensen, L. L., and Gottman, J. M. (1994). Influence of age and gender on affect, physiology, and their interrelations: A study of long-term marriages. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 67(1): 56–68.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Locke, H. J., and Wallace, K. M. (1959). Short marital-adjustment and prediction tests: Their reliability and validity. Marriage Fam. Living 21: 251–255.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Lovallo, W. R. (1997). Stress & health: Biological and psychological interactions.

  38. Malarkey, W. B., Glaser, R., Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., and Marucha, P. T. (2001). Behavior: the endocrine-immune interface and health outcomes. Adv. Psychosom. Med. 22: 104–115.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Malarkey, W. B., Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., Pearl, D., and Glaser, R. (1994). Hostile behavior during marital conflict alters pituitary and adrenal hormones. Psychosom. Med. 56(1): 41–51.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  40. Margolin, G., Burman, B., and John, R. S. (1989). Home observations of married couples reenacting naturalistic conflicts. Behav. Assess. 11(1): 101–118.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Matthews, L. S., Wickrama, K. A. S., and Conger, R. D. (1996). Predicting marital instability from spouse and observer reports of marital interaction. J. Marriage Fam. 58(3): 641–655.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Meites, J., Goya, R., and Takahashi, S. (1987). Why the neuroendocrine system is important in aging processes. Exp. Gerontol. 22(1): 1–15.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Noller, P., Feeney, J. A., Bonnell, D., and Callan, V. J. (1994). A longitudinal study of conflict in early marriage. J. Soc. Pers. Relationships 11(2): 233–252.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Noller, P., and Guthrie, D. (1989). Assessment and modification of marital communication. Behav. Change 6(3–4): 124–136.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Notarius, C. I., Benson, P. R., Sloane, D., Vanzetti, N. A., and Hornyak, L. (1989). Exploring the interface between perception and behavior: An analysis of marital interaction in distressed and nondistressed couples. Behav. Assess. 11(1): 39–64.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Otte, C., Hart, S., Neylan, T. C., Marmar, C. R., Yaffe, K., and Mohr, D. C. (2005). A meta-analysis of cortisol response to challenge in human aging: Importance of gender. Psychoneuroendocrinology 30(1): 80–91.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Pasch, L. A., Bradbury, T. N., and Sullivan, K. T. (1997). Social support in marriage: An analysis of intraindividual and interpersonal components. In Pierce, G. R., Lakey, B., et al. (Eds.), Sourcebook of social support and personality, pp. 229–256.

  48. Seeman, T. E., Berkman, L. F., Gulanski, B. I., Robbins, R. J., et al. (1995). Self-esteem and neuroendocrine response to challenge: MacArthur studies of successful aging. J. Psychosom. Res. 39(1): 69–84.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Smith, T. W., Gallo, L. C., Goble, L., Ngu, L. Q., and Stark, K. A. (1998). Agency, communion, and cardiovascular reactivity during marital interaction. Health Psychol. 17(6): 537–545.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Wieder, G. B., and Weiss, R. L. (1980). Generalizability theory and the coding of marital interactions. J. Consul. Clin. Psychol. 48(4): 469–477.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Weiss, R. L. (1980). Strategic behavioral marital therapy: Toward a model for assessment and intervention. In Vincent, J. P. (Ed.), Advances in Family Intervention, Assessment and Theory, Vol. 1, JAI Press, Greenwich, CT, pp. 229–271.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Weiss, R. L., and Heyman, R. E. (1990). Observation of marital interaction. In Fincham, F. D., and Bradbury, T. N. (Eds.), The psychology of marriage: Basic issues and applications, pp. 87–117.

  53. Weiss, R. L., and Summers, K. (1983). The Marital Interaction Coding System-III. In Filsinger, E. E. (Ed.), A sourcebook of marriage and family assessment, Sage, Beverly Hills, CA, pp. 85–115.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Wieder, G. B., and Weiss, R. L. (1980). Generalizability theory and the coding of marital interactions. J. Consult. Clin. Psychol. 48: 469–477.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Work on this article was supported in part by NIH Grant P50 DE13749, NIA Program Project Grant AG16321, NIH General Clinical Research Center Grant M01-RR-0034, NIH Independent Scientist Award MH01467, The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center Core Grant CA-16058-09, and NIH Psychoneuroimmunology Training Grant MH18831.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kathi L. Heffner.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Heffner, K.L., Loving, T.J., Kiecolt-Glaser, J.K. et al. Older Spouses’ Cortisol Responses to Marital Conflict: Associations With Demand/Withdraw Communication Patterns. J Behav Med 29, 317 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10865-006-9058-3

Download citation

KEY WORDS:

  • older couples
  • marital conflict
  • cortisol
  • demand/withdraw
  • communication
  • psychophysiology.